Sunday, September 16, 2018

The last great unbranded hero.

Staring in the mirror at my Marvel Studios t-shirt after five minutes of Pokemon Go mixed with a YouTube video from the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, I realized what an amazing creature Sherlock Holmes has become at this point: The last great unbranded hero.

No corporate entity owns him. Creators of all sorts can develop their vision of him. No stans can rebel against any new tale of him, because the original Canon was cemented in place nearly a century ago and all new Sherlocks are created equal.

Once the concept of intellectual property came our way, entertainment companies started rounding characters up like cattle and branding them with copyrights and trademarks instead of the classic hot iron poker with a symbol on the end. Sherlock Holmes and his herd had some corporate cowpokes try to round them up, but a couple fans of free range Holmes came riding in and thwarted that effort. Sherlock Holmes escaped by the tweed of his deerstalker.

Other old heroes still roam free. Robin Hood. King Arthur. Beowulf. But the thing that makes Sherlock Holmes different was the way, just as the branding world came after him, he leaped into the modern day and demonstrated the ability to exist in any place or period. He was not only free of corporate control, he was free to find new adventures outside of the Victorian era. A particular new story with specific new actors can lock down their view of him in a particular place and time, but both history and the future are open-ended. Holmes can roam.

Laws can still be changed. Tyrants of industry can still make moves to corral our free-running literary mustang. And Sherlockians, as a very minor minority, might not be able to stop that if and when it does happen. But for now, we really have to appreciate just what a wonder Sherlock Holmes is and the special place he's found in 2018.

Even a corporately-held character like Winnie the Pooh can get shackled and hidden away by an authoritarian regime after being used as a symbol by rebellious folk, as we've seen recently, and maybe Sherlock Holmes's freedom might someday put him in a similar place, joining a movement against a dictator or other power-mad authoritarian. One could easily understand why you might want Sherlock Holmes on your side, whatever the cause. (Conversely, then, an authoritarian regime might also take Sherlock as their team mascot. He's versatile.)

Who knows what could come tomorrow? But for today, we have Sherlock Holmes with us, with all of us.

Let's make the most of it.

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